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Indians Are More Open To Innovative With Independent Luxury Brands: Jaipur Watch Company
In an interview with BW Businessworld, Mehta, spoke about challenges and journey of the company so far.
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Wristwatches have become more for a fashion statement than telling time. And it is hence proved by Jaipur Watch Company, a luxury watchmaker. A passion for collecting coins turned a risk management professional into one of the finest watchmakers. A passionate collector of antique currency coins, he combined his love for antiquities and the stories and narratives that went with them, with his ardour for horology to create India’s first bespoke watch company. As a collector, he had worked with renowned numismatist, Kothari, to develop a thematic collection of Imperial era coins, particularly those from King George VI era.
Mehta’s interest now spans several forms of antiquities, such as stamps, vintage motifs and watchmaking traditions from across the world, which he incorporates seamlessly into his watches. In the process, he has created a watch brand that puts the country on the luxury horological map, but with that subtle flavour of India’s cultural roots. In an interview with BW Businessworld, Mehta spoke about challenges and journey of the company so far.
When and how your love for collecting coins and antiquities turned into watches?
Gaurav Mehta (GM): I am a watchmaker quite by providence. I would even call it an act of serendipity. I used to run a risk management and insurance business, but with a passion for collecting ancient coins or numismatics. I had been collecting British-era coins since I was a teenager and under the guidance of renowned numismatist, Mr Kothari, I developed a collection of coins from different periods of Indian coinage history. But I was particularly fascinated by coins from the King George VI era.
These were coins that were never used; in the numismatics circle, they are called “uncirculated coins” and were in pristine condition. Their surface was completely free of all scratches or any deformities. Parallel to this, but of equal significance, was my love for watches and over the years I had collected several vintage watches from brands such as Omega and HMT. I would take apart the watches that I owned, understanding their mechanisms, going carefully through the innards of the watches, figuring how they worked.
One day, I remember opening an HMT Quartz Watch to study its mechanism. A one paisa coin from the King George VI era, with a hole in the centre, was lying close at hand and on a whim, I stuck it on the dial. And the rest, as they say, is history. This heirloom watch attracted a lot of attention from family and friends and set the foundation of Jaipur Watch Company. The year was 2013 and the last six years have been a journey of experimentation and innovation. While India has had a history of watchmaking – HMT, Titan, and such brands, we are the first watch brand in the microbrand fine watch space. The idea of marrying heritage, history, drawing from India’s luxury traditions, and antiquities is the foundation of Jaipur Watch Company. We are a brand that combines craftsmanship and antiquity with an impeccable watchmaking process.
How do you get coins and procure them?
I source coins from dealers, antique stores, numismatic exhibitions, auctions, actually just about anywhere. I have a network of informers and dealers who keep me informed as soon as new coins, and other antiquities that I use in the dials, enter the market.
What challenges do you face while setting up Jaipur Watch Company? How much investment has been made to set up the company?
Raising capital was an issue. I spoke to my father about my idea and he asked me to find my own way! So I sold my insurance business to raise capital. One of our biggest challenges is to procure the superior quality parts to create bespoke watches. Luxury watches are a class apart and need parts that are of the highest quality. The meticulously-crafted bespoke watches are heirloom pieces, and often a work of art. The ancillary industries in India that can supply the best quality parts are not as well developed in India; in fact, there is a lack of quality parts that prove to be a huge impediment. The bespoke watches we make are limited edition timepieces.
We also found it challenging to keep in touch with our customers and introduce them to our innovations. To deal with this challenge and to establish a direct connection with our customers at all times, we have opened a retail store-in-store at Select Citywalk. Here, our customers can reach out to us, explore and buy our range of watches, particularly the pret watches, and also approach us for bespoke watches. Right now, they place an order online or call us at our Jaipur office. The retail store is our way to reach out to our customers in a more direct manner.
What does it take to be an ace watchmaker in India?
Passion, perseverance, a belief in our product and our brand, and constant innovation. India has had a tradition of watchmaking – from HMT to Titan. India also has a tradition of luxury as well as bespoke luxury. Francesca Cartier Brickell, a sixth-generation Cartier, often talks about how much the country-influenced their watchmakers and how the access to Indian gemstones and craftsmen gave them an edge in the global Horlogerie market.
Not just our royal families but most Indians, at one time, wore hand-woven fabric, jewellery that was customized and furniture that was made just for them. The scale would differ – on the top end, the jewellery, watches and garments were not just made-to-order but absolutely luxurious. I am just dipping into that heritage of bespoke, of luxury and craftsmanship to create a brand that represents modern India and the best of ‘Make in India’.
How big has the market been for Jaipur Watch Company, particularly keeping the old perception in mind than Indian luxury watches don’t match up to Swiss and other International watch brands quality?
The perception that Indian brands are not as good as Swiss or other global brands is slowly changing. We use some amount of Swiss watch mechanism of the most impeccable quality. But the design, the patterns, the motifs on the dials, the leather straps are all crafted by our team. We have a manufacturing base in Bangalore where the bespoke watches are created.
Initially, it was very difficult to convince people to spend say, Rs 2 lakh on a bespoke Indian watch. However, the potential was immense, particularly since we can customize a watch to not just fit in a client’s desires and demands, but also appeal to their emotional and cultural leanings by incorporating their spiritual and cultural beliefs (as mentioned above). The watch market in India is huge and if you can appeal to the client’s cultural preoccupations as we do, you are likely to make some headway.
There are many who not just love made-to-order watches, but are drawn by the fact that they carry, within their soul, a ‘piece of India’. When we started in 2013, the Indian market was dominated by Swiss brands. It still is but Indians are more open to innovative, independent brands such as ours. The Indian Watch market at present is approximated to be at a size of Rs 10,000 crore; the international brands own about 20% of this market. There is a lot of potentials for us to grow.
Who all are your target customers as you are not available in multi-brand stores? How do you find out your customers?
Our target customer is anyone who is looking for a unique timepiece, which carries a bit of Indian aesthetics in its design and craftsmanship. Our watches are available at price points – our prêt watches begin at Rs 16,000 and go up to Rs 55,000, and are perfect for both personal use or gifting. This means we have a wide market we can tap. The idea is to reach across different price segments and people a truly unique watch. Unique and beautiful timepieces don’t have to always be priced at staggering rates. Our bespoke watches, which sell for anywhere between Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 24 lakh and are studded with baguettes and sapphires, are ordered by watch connoisseurs, watch collectors and anyone with a taste for fine living.
What is your marketing strategy?
In the initial days, we tied up with the right people. For instance, in Mumbai, we sold through a store called The Big Door. The owner not just sold our watches, he also hosted a three-day event where the crème de la crème were invited. He advertised that the ‘Jaipur Watch Company timepieces were available at his concept store, in newspapers. It was quite a lucky break. We then moved on to the Taj Khazana outlets across Taj hotels, which was again a good platform. Today, we stock at stores in The Oberoi Group of Hotels and through the Select Citywalk retail outpost, we hope to not just showcase our new watches to our regular customers, but also gain access to new walk-in-clients. We are also looking at showcasing our watches at special curated events and evenings.
How much growth have you achieved over the years?
The sale has jumped by almost 150% over the last year, which perhaps offers you an idea of the potential of the fine watches segment. We occupy a niche space by offering watches that are not mass-produced. We created timepieces that will be passed down generations as heirlooms, much like jewellery is today.
Tell us about the most unique pieces you have made to date.
There are several, both new and old. I am putting down a few:
Imperial Wristwear: This beauty is one of my earliest watches made using King George VI (1939-45 era) one rupee half silver coin. My thematic coin collection focuses on the George VI era coins. The limited-edition stainless steel watch has an antique one rupee coin embedded on the dial. It houses a Citizen 1L32 Slim Quartz Movement. The other design flourishes include a sapphire crystal and a sapphire stone winder.
Imperial Wristwear II: This is the second iteration of our Imperial Wristwear Collection. The watch is 46mm in size, houses an Automatic Movement (Miyota 8215) and is available in four colour variants in a limited edition of 50 pieces: black, red, blue and green. Each colour has a complementing precious stone on the crown – Black Sapphire for the black piece; Red Ruby for the red one; the Blue Sapphire for blue; and a brilliant Emerald for the green. The Imperial Wristwear II is sheathed in a double-sapphire glass and boasts a Butterfly Clasp Strap mechanism.
King’s Wristwear: This has an interesting innovation in the form of a unique moving disc mechanism. It houses a Swiss Machine (ISA Cal 2334:1035), is 43mm in size and sports a one paisa coin (the lowest denomination of British India coinage) at the disc movement, which makes it look rather unusual. The collection is serial numbered from 1-500, and each watch has its unique identity. The choice of the strap includes a black strap with steel finish case and a brown strap with a gold polished case.
India’s first 3D watch: The country’s first 3D printed watch, in stainless steel, is sheathed in a sapphire crystal. The dial of the watch is 3D printed with motifs; the numbers jump out because they are embossed on a high polished surface. The watch is powered by a premium Japanese Miyota mechanical movement of 9015. The hand-crafted leather belt enhances its aesthetic quality. The watch, 40 mm in size and 8mm in thickness, has lugs that are 20mm in size.
3D printing offered us the opportunity to work with a faster manufacturing process and develop the product quite quickly. This manufacturing process allowed for creating on-demand designs. Customization, which has always been the forte of Jaipur Watch Company, is now one of the main advantages exploited by them with 3D printing.
The stamp watch: This is our newest innovation. In the limited edition stamp watch, I have used three paisa denominations postal stamps from the King George VI era, which I bought at an exhibition of antique coins and stamps in Mumbai. As I mentioned, the King George VI era happens to be my subject of interest in coins.
JWC Polo: This is a very special Made-to measure collection that we created for His Highness Maharaja Gaj Singh. It references his love for polo and the Jodhpur Polo Team. True to the unmatched polo tradition, JWC’s limited edition ‘JWC Polo’ collection is embedded with several elements from the equestrian sport. The use of eagle (from the Jodhpur Coat of Arms) and the official polo emblem are some of the collection’s unique elements. The timepieces house a Swiss movement with a jump-hour mechanism and are water-resistant. The first in the series 001 is a bespoke piece handcrafted for the royal His Highness as the purveyor of the royal sport in the region.